Catherine Taft

  • diary August 13, 2010

    Crush with Eyeliner

    Aspen, Colorado

    ASPENS ARE COMMONLY KNOWN as the world’s largest living organism, which makes them an especially apt totem for other organisms aspiring to live large. Dreaming big, I arrived in the eponymous Colorado town last Wednesday—though a monsoon thunderstorm threatened to keep my jet away—for the Aspen Art Museum’s sixth annual artCRUSH benefit and a slate of events tailored to inspire the largesse of the locals.

    Trekking to Aspen is a tricky affair (the exit from I-70 isn’t even marked), and I was fashionably late to wineCRUSH—the fundraiser’s opening ceremony, wine tasting, and multicourse meal. I sunk

  • diary August 03, 2010

    Growing Pains

    Los Angeles

    OF THE MANY OPPORTUNITIES for growth and discovery this summer, West of Rome Public Art’s first annual benefit was perhaps the most sensory. Staged inside Mike Kelley and Michael Smith’s collaborative project A Voyage of Growth and Discovery—a warehouse-size multimedia installation of Burning Man–inspired videos and sculptures—the journey officially began last Monday night at the Farley Storage Building in Eagle Rock once guests had signed a waiver: “. . . you elect to participate in an ‘activity’ that may cause social discomfort or distress in some participants.” Said “activity” included Nurse

  • diary July 09, 2010

    Club Soda

    Twentynine Palms, California

    MOST PEOPLE IN THE ART WORLD—if they’re anything like me—like to think they know what Pop art is. But last Sunday, artist Mike Bouchet proved me wrong with his own brand of Pop: a swimming pool in the desert filled with his unique recipe for bubbleless diet cola. Hosted by Mara McCarthy’s Chinatown gallery the Box, the Flat Cola Pool BBQ marked the culmination of Bouchet’s My Cola LITE project, begun in 2004, in which the artist bottled his cola, shipped the bottles to China, and distributed them for free. In the spirit of free enterprise (if not “freedom” altogether), Bouchet planned his event

  • Waltercio Caldas

    Waltercio Caldas’s drawing 1, 2009, is a straightforward composition of india ink and pins on paper; two diamond forms—one small and red; the other, larger and black—slightly intersect near a spot of printed text reading simples. While this word (a plural) seems to describe the adjacent shapes, its placement here is curious for an artist who rarely uses text, even if he repeatedly references the textual. Caldas typically makes abstract sculptures that signify the syntactic movement of language, as if diagramming a sentence. By applying to his materials a set of formal guidelines—for example,

  • Paul McCarthy: Pig Island

    To fully understand Paul McCarthy’s practice, one should consider the artist’s studio as a kind of sculpture itself—an object perpetually digesting and expunging the everyday grotesqueries of the American psyche.

    To fully understand Paul McCarthy’s practice, one should consider the artist’s studio as a kind of sculpture itself—an object perpetually digesting and expunging the everyday grotesqueries of the American psyche. Pig Island—an expansive, debris-strewn installation that operates like a laboratory in which sculptural crossbreeds are conceived, molded, mechanized, and cannibalized—is the most efficient conceivable expression of this idea. Cultivated over the past seven years in the heart of McCarthy’s studio, this work, never before seen in its entirety, is to be

  • Leonor Antunes and Amalia Pica

    The conceptual impulse behind artmaking typically manifests itself in either indulgently labored or stoically restrained gestures. This two-person exhibition, featuring the work of Portuguese-born, Berlin-based Leonor Antunes and London-based, Argentinean-born Amalia Pica, presented both approaches to Conceptualism as ways to investigate ideas about the organization of and communication across space. Although mounted as two solo shows occupying the same gallery, “Alongside” revealed that Antunes’s and Pica’s respective convictions and formal assertions are not unrelated.

    On the east side of the

  • Amanda Ross-Ho

    At the heart of Amanda Ross-Ho’s recent installation at Pomona College Museum of Art, the Los Angeles–based artist’s first solo museum exhibition, was a giant fiberglass candy dish in the form of a smiling, wide-eyed ghost—the kind of novelty home decor one might expect to find on the shelves of Target in late October but here inflated to larger-than-life proportions. In its deliberate physicality and human scale, the sculpture, titled Great Grandparent (all works 2010), seemed a compulsory symbol through which to understand this show in its entirety—that is, as suspended between presence and

  • Allen Ruppersberg

    BUY ONE TONIGHT, READ IT FOREVER; THE BEST IN WORDS AND PICTURES; YOU ARE THE STORY: With that earnest air of hucksterism indigenous to an earlier time in American history, Allen Ruppersberg spins new narratives from old ones in his bright, sizable 1985 collage Cover Art (Wonder Series)—a pristine composite of pasted-up texts like the above (whether in adlike tag lines rendered with vintage label-maker tape or via disconnected words and numbers torn from paper) and mostly midcentury print images (including a depiction of the pope, one of a monkey wearing a lab coat, and several nature

  • Tomoo Gokita

    With their watery, atmospheric grounds, china-blue hues, and organic yet somehow robotic forms, Japanese artist Tomoo Gokita’s sixteen new canvases mark a striking shift forward in the artist’s style. Whereas the works in his 2007 show at Honor Fraser retained a distinctive figuration—painted black-and-white bodies lifted from lingerie ads, 1970s yearbooks, and porn magazines, and portraits of Mexican wrestlers and geishas, all of which were partially consumed by anxious, repeating brushstrokes—the artist has now loosened his grip on unequivocal source material, allowing a minimal abstraction

  • interviews January 14, 2010

    Rani Singh

    Harry Smith: The Avant-Garde in the American Vernacular celebrates Smith’s wide-ranging oeuvre and is available this month from Getty Publications. Here, Rani Singh, director of the Harry Smith Archives, discusses the book’s inception and Smith’s significance to the field. On January 28, the Hammer Museum will host a launch party with Patti Smith.

    HARRY SMITH EMPHASIZED seeing the mundane in a creative light and would regularly ask people, “Have you been creative today?” Essentially, his search for synthesizing world cultures was what his artmaking and lifetime achievements were all about.


  • Neil Beloufa

    Neil Beloufa seems fascinated by the sympathetic vibrations between opposing forces, and his recent solo exhibition at François Ghebaly Gallery (formerly Chung King Project) demonstrated his precise ability to let dichotomies collide. Only twenty-five years old, the French artist has already produced a small but compelling body of work that includes sculpture, video, installation, and conceptual photography, all of which were on view in “Tectonic Plates or the Jurisdiction of Shapes.” As the title suggests, this show—with some pieces adapted or repurposed from earlier sculptures and installations

  • Charley Harper

    As a kind of midcentury anti-Audubon, Charley Harper imaginatively sought to represent the natural world through its most basic shapes, colors, and patterns: that is, through a style the artist called “minimal realism.” The term, though, is a bit of a misnomer. While Harper’s illustrations and paintings from the 1940s to the end of his life in 2007 are undeniably modern designs, they lack both the exaggerated objectivity of realism and the cold authority of Minimalism. Rather, his delightfully idiosyncratic renderings faithfully represent organic processes, but hint at the fluid personalities

  • picks November 19, 2009

    William Powhida

    Insider art-world jokes—as caricature, if not a kind of portraiture—speak volumes about the “contemporary” moment and often end up serving as important social and historical documents as they age. Consider the rich anthology of nineteenth-century Parisian satiric cartoons (those of Honoré Daumier, Henri Meyer, or Paul Iribe), which mock the Salon scene and its establishment. The New York–based artist William Powhida might well be considered today’s Daumier, and this exhibition proves that the art of art-world satire (as a genre? A tradition?) remains a witty and biting form of discourse.


  • Fred Tomaselli

    The buzz around Fred Tomaselli’s meticulous painting-collage hybrids frequently centers on the work’s more loaded materials—ephedrine, aspirin, saccharine, an assortment of brand-name pharmaceuticals, marijuana, and other psychoactive plants—which Tomaselli assembles into kaleidoscopic patterns and scenes; looking at his pictures, one might infer that “using” a drug as a raw material should constitute or symbolize “being on drugs.” Although he is acutely interested in depicting altered and alternate perceptual experience, Tomaselli has also employed these substances (or rather a simple reference

  • film October 30, 2009

    Magic Man

    IT IS SOMEWHAT COMFORTING to know that in the past one hundred years of film, the major tropes and formulas of the horror genre have changed very little. Its stories still probe our subconscious, feeding off human insecurities; evil creatures or disturbed slashers still threaten otherwise sleepy settings where virtuous characters survive and the bawdy ones are violently eliminated. These shocks and chills, which contemporary audiences have come to expect, were established early on and Paul Wegener’s 1920 telling of the golem legend is a strong specimen. The third film in what was the first horror

  • Yayoi Kusama

    When, in a 1998 interview with Damien Hirst, Yayoi Kusama observed that while cancer is what people fear, flowers are “what people enjoy visually. . . . Ultimately, they are the same. When they die, they [both] become dust . . .” she may well have been forecasting the essence of her most recent series of large-scale sculptures, “Flowers That Bloom at Midnight,” 2007–2009. Recently exhibited with new canvases and an unrelated sculpture at Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills were seven entries to that series from this year, immense blossoms made from fiberglass-reinforced plastic that linger delicately

  • diary August 17, 2009

    High Society

    Aspen, Colorado

    THERE ARE FEW THINGS more scenic than cruising at twenty-five thousand feet over the green and white Rocky Mountains of Colorado’s high country; but as my Bombardier Turboprop approached Aspen’s tiny airstrip last Wednesday, it was the views of the private ranches, man-made lakes, and sprawling vacation homes that caught my eye. Though the picturesque (and hard-to-reach) community is famous for its exclusivity, it has garnered a new reputation as a fund-raising powerhouse, and the three days of events benefiting its own Aspen Art Museum were proof positive. I arrived in town with just enough

  • picks June 16, 2009

    “Video Journeys”

    One of the most striking aspects of video is that it can act as a logical extension of sculpture. Even in the early days of the Sony Porta-Pak, artists explored the television monitor as a revolutionary new form in space––from the simple performative gestures that delineated the limits of both the screen and the body captured on tape (as in Vito Acconci’s Centers, 1971), to more complex installations that rely on close-circuit setups to produce lags in time and space (like Dan Graham’s Time Delay, 1974). Nearly forty years later, the logical connections between video and sculpture are still

  • Erik Frydenborg

    Catherine Taft on Erik Frydenborg

    Successive breakthroughs in the natural sciences gave rise to a system of graphical schema to represent the natural order—whether the planetary orbits around the sun, the life cycle of plants, or the double-helix structure of DNA. Over the years, such representations, as commonplace as they are useful, have been refined and standardized into efficient hybrids of design and illustration for classrooms and textbooks alike. The modular artwork of Los Angeles–based artist Erik Frydenborg’s debut solo exhibition at Bonelli Contemporary dissects these sorts of educational

  • John Williams

    For just over a decade, John Williams has been cleverly employing sculpture as a useful conduit for time-based action. In 1998, the Los Angeles–based artist produced the first objects of his ongoing “Record Projection” series, a group of small, flashy assemblages crafted from colorful, mass-produced plastic forms—drinking straws, dish scrubbers, stick-on bows, hair rollers, and poker visors, for example—attached to vinyl records that, when set atop spinning turntables, become animated instruments in Williams’s expanded cinema–like performances. During these events, Williams randomly selects and